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Applied and Environmental Microbiology
2013

Evidence of Microbial Regulation of Biogeochemical Cycles from a Study on Methane Flux and Land Use Change

Loc Nazaries, Yao Pan, Levente Bodrossy, Elizabeth M. Baggs, Peter Millard, J. Colin Murrell and Brajesh K. Singh

Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, University of Western Sydney, Penrith South, New South Wales, Australia.
Abstract

Microbes play an essential role in ecosystem functions, including carrying out biogeochemical cycles, but are currently considered a black box in predictive models and all global biodiversity debates. This is due to (i) perceived temporal and spatial variations in microbial communities and (ii) lack of ecological theory explaining how microbes regulate ecosystem functions. Providing evidence of the microbial regulation of biogeochemical cycles is key for predicting ecosystem functions, including greenhouse gas fluxes, under current and future climate scenarios. Using functional measures, stable-isotope probing, and molecular methods, we show that microbial (community diversity and function) response to land use change is stable over time. We investigated the change in net methane flux and associated microbial communities due to afforestation of bog, grassland, and moorland. Afforestation resulted in the stable and consistent enhancement in sink of atmospheric methane at all sites. This change in function was linked to a niche-specific separation of microbial communities (methanotrophs). The results suggest that ecological theories developed for macroecology may explain the microbial regulation of the methane cycle. Our findings provide support for the explicit consideration of microbial data in ecosystem/climate models to improve predictions of biogeochemical cycles.

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